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Monday, February 25, 2008

Glut of Single Men and the Cost of Weddings

In my post "A Study in Wedding Takanot Differences," commenter Hesh brought my attention to a most fascinating article in the New York Times about the growing number of single men in Egypt, unable to raise enough funds to get married.

The lack of marriage amongst the youth of Egypt is proving to be destabilizing. Lack of marriage lowers esteem and removes on from attaining independence in a "limbo between childhood and adulthood." Many are turning to extremes in religious practice which is changing the face of Egypt, considering the demographic is so large. According to the article, 60% of Egypt's population is under 25 years of age.

The cost of getting married (per Egyptian custom) is just out of reach: The NYT writes ". . . marriage is so expensive now, the system is collapsing in many communities. Diane Singerman, a professor at American University, said that a 1999 survey found that marriage in Egypt cost about $6,000, 11 times annual household expenditures per capita. Five years later, a study found the price had jumped 25 percent more. In other words, a groom and his father in the poorest segment of society had to save their total income for eight years to afford a wedding, she reported."

Hesh sees the parallels between this mid East community and much of the frum world and asks " how is the frum world different?" He gives three possibilities:
A) Frum people are more willing to go into debt / have more access to borrowed funds
B) Frum people have more economic opportunities, even if some people voluntarily don't take advantage of them
C) Frum people generally become less religious if they can't get married, not more religious.

I see a major parallel to most and/or certain frum circles which is just how how set in stone the expectations of what a wedding must be and just the near impossibility of changing that wedding culture. The US might have a wedding industry, but there is no one wedding culture that basically forbids singles from marrying if the family can't "do it right." In America, one can choose between a cake and punch wedding and an extravaganza, or anything in between. In the Egypt, a minimal wedding is always a relative extravaganza. While I have been to a small handful of minimalist frum weddings, even those deemed "modest" are still far beyond minimalist.

Take a look at this fascinating article and leave your comments.


mlevin said...

Does that mean that Arabs will stop reproducing? Then, I'm all for making their weddings very costly. Make it $20,000

ora said...

I don't think you can compare the situations. Egyptians (and others in the Arab world) are in trouble because of a lack of education and a lack of jobs. Most of those in the frum world, OTOH, have at least the possibility of educations and a good job, or at least some job. Certainly your average frum guy could find a factory job well within six years. Also, the average frum wedding might be expensive, but not 10X the average annual salary expensive.

If we are comparing, I think (B) is the big difference. Egyptians have no hope--there simply aren't jobs, even for the educated. Even in Jewish communities where poverty is the norm, members know that there are opportunities out there if they ever decide to take advantage of them.

I don't think Egyptians are becoming more religious because they can't get married, IMO it has more to do with a corrupt political system and governments that can't provide a basic standard of living for their people. They are rejecting a broken system, and Islam is the only alternative being offered.

ProfK said...

That Islam won't fix the problems is found in one sentence in the NYT article. In Iran, the number of unwed young men is 38% of their total and growing, the largest number seen in years. And Iran is a fundamentalist Islamic country. Where there are no economic opportunities you have the situation depicted in the story.

That is not the case here in the US. Economic opportunities abound, but only for those who go out and find them and take advantage of them. The vast majority of those who find themselves economically deprived in the frum communities are so because of a type of "planned poverty." They have set up their lives such that their economic expectations do not depend on them and their own efforts. Like the Egyptians, daddy will provide; unlike the Egyptians "sonny" is not helping out.

The only point of congruence I see between what is happening in Egypt and in the frum community is that both want what they cannot afford. The answer here in the US is one not available in Egypt; go into easily acquired debt.

JS said...

I second what ProfK said, especially the point about how easy it is to get credit in this country. Anyone with a decent income could go out get a few credit cards and rack up several tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt in a few days/weeks if they truly wanted to.

This country's economy depends so greatly on people spending rather than saving that our laws are geared to help people get into debt and not be able to emerge easily (see the bankruptcy law changes and the fact a rebate check is offered as opposed to a tax credit).

The fact that someone can have tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt and the credit card companies will still let this person rack up more debt is so disgusting and I wish laws would be enacted to prevent it - yes, people need to be personally responsible for their actions, but the govt should also act for the greater good as well.

Lastly, in these arab countries, the situation has grave implications for fundamentalism and terrorism and is something we should all be concerned about.

Hesh said...

Thank you for following up on my suggested reading. I thought it was fascinating that such a different society, (though perhaps more similarities than we would like to admit) could end up with a problem found in many parts of the frum society.

With respect to debt, I know that it is easy to get into debt here in America (B"H not personally), but can anyone comment on the situation in Israel? I would think that credit might be a little tighter there.

SephardiLady said...

At least judging by the theme in the solicitation letters I get in the mail, it seems pretty easy to get into overwhelming interest free loans from gemachim in Israel.

I call it being hurt by Chessed.

SephardiLady said...

There are certainly grave implications in terms of terrorism to have idle young, unmarried men sitting around.

I don't think have idle bochurim/yungerman is boding well for yiddishkeit either. Spraying bleach in RBS is an example of fundamenelism and points to some young people having too much time on their hands and needing something productive to be involved in (preferably something paid).

In my own mind, the largest parallel is not accepting that one must live at an appropriate fiscal level. Who would have thought that pushing "cake and punch" weddings could be a key to national security for Israel and the US?